Patagonia Rising: A Story Too Important Not To Tell

Gary Graham Hughes

Brian Lilla is the director of Patagonia Rising, the documentary-in-progress about the Patagonia dams issue
Brian Lilla is the director of Patagonia Rising, the documentary-in-progress about the Patagonia dams issue
It has been an amazing couple of years since the Patagonia Campaign was launched.

The amount of talent and dedication coming from the multitudes of people around the world working hard for the protection of Patagonia’s rivers from mega-hydroelectric development is spectacular. In this broad community of river defenders there are a few folks whose work really stands out. The team working on the documentary Patagonia Rising is an example of those whose efforts are really notable, for both the skill and the sacrifice involved.

Thanks to supporters who recognize the importance of this film, late last year the Patagonia Rising crew was able to make a production trip down to Chile. They had crazy weather, but they were able to film through out the Aysén Region in Patagonia, including more than a week rafting and filming the length of the Baker River, one of the arteries of life threatened by the HidroAysén project. Producer and soundman Greg Miller actually has a series of blogs happening on the NRDC On Earth website which recount their trip on the Baker.

Director Brian Lilla took a moment from his busy editing and post-production schedule to chat with me about the Patagonia Rising project. There can be no question: the work is hard, and the team could use support in this post-production phase, in order to make sure the movie is available as the defense of Patagonia’s rivers heats up.  Still, Brian is firm in his convictions and certainly is putting his skills to the test for the wild rivers of our planet. Give a read to our brief interview, and go by the Patagonia Rising website to consider donating to a very worthy documentary film effort.

Why do you think the Patagonia story needs to be told?

The proposed dams in Chile are a global story. We hope the documentary reveals viable solutions to fulfilling Chile's future energy demands. The film is also a creative approach to educating people to the importance of river conservation on a global level. It's critical to tell a story about a place that hasn't been impacted by dams, even more important than framing it as a story of an ecological gem drowned by the privatization of water.

What is it that most impressed you about being on the Baker River?

The course of the Rio Baker blew my mind. From its headwaters on the Northern Patagonian Ice Cap the river carves a journey under hanging glaciers, massive granite walls, through open grasslands, and then dense temperate rainforests. Floating the Rio Baker for 10 days also gave me the opportunity to witness the dynamic differences of flowing water. From crystal blue rapids to the dirty grey of glacial silt to the green mouth of the Pacific, the water is in a process of constant change.

What is your general impression about the situation in Patagonia and Chile these days?  Are people resigned to the dam mega-projects, or is there a willingness to resist?

Talking with people from Santiago to Patagonia, the dam issue is very divided. Many people in Santiago see the dams as an opportunity. Yet, there were a lot of people who want to shift from mega-hydro to more localized energy like solar. In Patagonia there is a strong resistance to the dams. After so many years of fighting, I get a sense that people are going to fight the dams till the end.

As independent filmmakers, what kinds of sacrifices are you making for this film and what is it that can most help you get the film ready for release?

Committing to the Patagonia Rising documentary has come at a great financial cost for me. All the monies that we raised have gone directly to the production. It's difficult to work so hard on this project with no compensation. I put my house up for sale in April and I am now committed this summer to editing the documentary—nothing else. Our last hope is to raise enough finishing funds to get the documentary complete and broadcast in Chile before a final decision is made. Any financial contribution is welcome.

Any last comments that you really want river defenders to consider?

Keep fighting. From my brief two-year involvement of trying to tell a story that defends Patagonia's rivers, I feel worn down. Knowing there are so many other people and organizations working on these same issues keeps me going. It's too important not to tell this story.

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